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  • Nick Smith

Z is for ... Zeitgeist


Well, Z was never going to be for Zebra. We've reached the final blog in this Change Alphabet, providing an opportunity both to take stock and to look forward. One thing that's clear from the series is that as change leaders we have a tremendous variety of approaches, models and tools available to us - to blend as the specific change initiative demands. We've touched on neurological insight, corporate anthropology, yoga, story theory, therapeutic models, generational theory, formation, emergent strategy, Black Lives Matter, and more. That surely means that our role as change leaders has to include the ability to select, blend, and deploy the right approach and tools for specific change contexts. It's not good enough for us to call on the same set of tools and techniques (not even exactly the same disciplines) in every situation. Rather, our change leadership must reflect the change context of each initiative.

What's that got to do with zeitgeist? Simply, that change contexts are broader than specific programmes, initiatives and organisations. If change, especially transformational change, is to succeed, it has to engage with broader social and human contexts - the spirit of the age; the zeitgeist.


So what is the zeitgeist of now, with which our change initiatives need to engage, to which we need to relate as change leaders? That, of course, will be more easily identified in hindsight, but here's four aspects that seem integral to it, and sone pointers re how we might respond as change leaders:

  • There's general agreement that we're in a season of profound 'VUCA' - volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity: globally significantly due to Coronavirus, and heightened in the UK by BREXIT. Patterns of behaviour are shifting, and tipping points being reached, more rapidly; counter-trends are co-existing - eg an environmental-driven shift towards public transport, and a COVID19-driven shift to car use. We need to apply approaches to change that recognise the impact of VUCA on our people's ability to engage with, and capacity for, change. Watch this space over the next month or two

  • Step changes in our attitudes to, and (let's pray and choose) our behaviours around, fundamental social issues relating to what it means to be human - not least around race, gender, and sexual orientation. BLM and #MeToo are driving change, and we're getting more radical about inclusion. We need ensure our change initiatives recognise and work with these. Where do we recruit our change champions from; how can furthering cultural change be part of change initiatives with a different focus?

  • A recognition that environmental (and other) sustainability is neither optional, nor an add-on, but integral to not just our product and service delivery and supply chains, but also to investor behaviour and corporate strategy. Can we envisage a change initiative that does not seek to integrate this also?

  • Potentially, a crisis of capitalism, or at least a major shift in our understanding of what business is all about. The 2008 financial crisis shook things, but it's difficult to argue it transformed them, at least in the short term. But the VUCA factors and slower-developing trends seem to be shifting us away from the 'business is primarily about shareholder value' ethos that has dominated the last few decades. One example is the Economics of Mutuality / Putting Purpose into Practice initiative emerging from Mars / Oxford University: well over 1,000 were at the launch webinar I joined last week. What an opportunity to bring a more compelling line-of-sight to change initiatives.

There's another way we might look at our context, however, and that would be to identify change itself as being the zeitgeist of today. And if change is the spirit of the age, we need to move beyond phrases such as 'change as BAU', recognising that there is no leadership that isn't change leadership, and there's no change leadership that doesn't embrace wider leadership. That's a challenge for us all, and one Epion Consulting is up for. I'm guessing you too. Lets's explore together what that looks like.

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